Communities secretary Eric Pickles has ordered a local authority to publish its newsletter less frequently to aid “the flourishing of independent and politically free local media”.
Mr Pickles has told Lambeth Council, in London, to change the publication frequency of its Lambeth Talk magazine from monthly to quarterly, in line with Section 4A of the Local Government Act.
However, the authority has hit back by asserting its belief that the benefits of monthly publication outweigh the “potential negative impact” on the local press.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has told the council to comply with the instruction by January.
A letter sent on behalf of Mr Pickles reads: “In making this proposal the Secretary of State is clear that the government’s purpose is as far as practicable to create an environment which is as conducive as possible to the flourishing of independent and politically free local media, which is an essential element of any effectively operating local democracy.”
In September Mr Pickles told five local authorities they faced legal action unless they scaled back the frequency of their newsletters, while seven more were sent warnings to comply with Ministerial regulations on their publication.
The warnings were issued after the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which limits the publication of council newspapers to four a year and allows the government to intervene if councils flout the regulations, was passed into law in January.
Responding to the department, Lambeth Council chief executive Derek Anderson wrote: “We believe the benefit to the community of continuing to publish a monthly edition outweighs the potential negative impact on local newspapers, none of which have complained to us that our publication has adversely affected their circulation.
“We have deliberately avoided imitating a newsletter and have a circulation schedule that does not seek to compete with the twice weekly or fortnightly editions that are currently published by local newspapers.”
He added the authority felt there had not been “adequate reasoning” given for the direction by the department.